What’s Wrong With Most Soul Winning Courses?
Since attending Bible School in the 1970s, I have gone through several evangelistic courses and found them to contain many helpful things. Yet something is wrong with the standard technique, because all too often they produce a host of empty professions, and hopefully we know that an empty profession of faith that doesn’t change the life is not biblical salvation.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).
“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
I read about a pastor who reported 4,000 professions in five years of ministry, but the church only grew from 98 to 100.
I read about a first-year missionary who reported over 700 professions of faith -- and 25 baptisms.
One evangelist comments: “How could you even pen those words without asking yourself if there isn’t something wrong with that picture? I seem to remember 3,000 saved at Pentecost, and 3,000 baptized! The most refreshing missionary that I have heard in a long time gave his update to our church recently. He has been in Poland for 14 years and to date knows of only five people who have been saved under his ministry. Just like at Pentecost, he only counts the ones who have been saved, baptized, and are in the church. Most of our ‘one, two, three, pray after me’ fellows would have dropped his support a long time ago! Myself, I would drop the guy with 738 saved and 25 baptized and shift the support to the fellow from Poland!”
After I graduated from school and moved back to my home town before we started missionary deputation, my pastor asked my wife and me to follow-up on the church’s Foster Club outreach. Each week the ladies would report many “salvations,” but no one was following up the “decisions.” We were given a stack of cards and began our follow up, but we quickly found that these “saved people” wanted nothing to do with us and had no interest in the church in particular or the things of Christ in general. Most wouldn’t even let us into the home. I thought to myself, that is not the type of salvation I got.
When we were given the “decision” cards for follow up on a county fair ministry in Oklahoma in 1999, of the hundreds of professions that were recorded we could not find even one person who gave any evidence of salvation or was even interested in attending church. A pastor friend followed up on the more than 100 “salvation decisions” that were made at a county fair ministry in Kentucky in 2011, and he did not find one soul who was even interested enough to attend church.
While visiting a large fundamental Baptist church in California, a friend went on visitation with the most notable soul winner in the church. A lady answered the bell at one house and stood impatiently behind the screen door while the soul winner went hastily through the plan of salvation. She wanted to attend to her child, who was fussing in the background, but he begged her to listen to the presentation. During the entire time, she was looking back into the house, severely distracted. At the end of his presentation, he demanded that she open the door partially and take his hand. She seemed shocked by this request, but she cautiously did as he said. He then asked her if she wanted to go to Heaven when she died. When she answered in the affirmative, he asked her to pray after him the sinner’s prayer, which she did. He announced her gloriously saved, and she immediately closed the door and went about her business.
This lady, and millions like her, have prayed the sinner’s prayer without Holy Spirit conviction of sin, clear understanding of the gospel, or repentance toward God. Such empty “decisions” are the sad products of a faulty soul-winning technique.
The churches that have adopted this method of evangelism have produced millions of false professions. There are many churches that can show only a handful of new creatures in Christ for every hundred converts they claim. There is something extremely wrong about that picture. It is a great confusion.
For nearly 40 years I have observed the sad fruit of this technique: multitudes of false professions, confusion about the reality of salvation, indifference to biblical truth, agnosticism, reprobate living, weakened churches, and blasphemy against God. In many communities across the land a large percentage of the population has prayed a sinner’s prayer under the ministry of churches practicing quick prayerism. Vast numbers of these have never been born again and they are now almost inoculated to biblical salvation. When challenged about their lifeless spiritual condition, they commonly reply, “I have done that,” meaning they have prayed a prayer and have been given assurance of eternal life. They are assured that they have a ticket to Heaven. Those who observe these things are made to think that salvation means little or nothing in relation to one’s manner of life, and Christianity appears foolish and powerless. This technique also tends to populate churches with unregenerate people who are trying to act right without having experienced genuine spiritual conversion.
There are many helpful things in the standard soul-winning programs, but they are missing some very important things and they are wrong about some things, and I believe that if the following changes were made we would see fewer empty professions and far less confusion and more genuine eternal fruit to the glory of Jesus Christ.
The following points would add scriptural correction and balance to the typical soul winning program.
1. The typical soul-winning program neglects repentance.
2. The typical soul-winning program emphasizes heaven too much.
3. The typical soul-winning program doesn’t plow the ground properly.
4. The typical soul-winning program doesn’t emphasize the importance of patience and thoroughness.
5. The typical soul-winning program doesn’t emphasize the importance of answering sincere questions.
6. The typical soul-winning program is too formulaic.
7. The typical soul-winning program uses human psychology and salesmanship.
8. The typical soul-winning program doesn’t depend on God enough and isn’t geared to looking for God’s working.
9. The typical soul-winning program promotes the error of immediately giving assurance.
10. The typical soul-winning program is geared to not doubting the reality of empty professions.
1. THE TYPICAL SOUL-WINNING PROGRAM NEGLECTS REPENTANCE (Acts 20:21).
Repentance was preached by John, by Jesus, and by Peter. It appears 68 times in New Testament, 10 times in the book of Acts alone.
Repentance was a major part of Paul’s message (Acts 17:30; 20:21; 26:19-20).
The Bible teaches that repentance is not same as believing (Acts 20:21). Sometimes repentance is emphasized (Luke 5:32; 13:3,5; 24:47; Acts 3:19; 5:31; 17:11; 26:20; 2 Peter 3:9); sometimes faith is emphasized (John 3:16; Acts 16:30-31; etc.); and sometimes both are mentioned together (Acts 20:21; Hebrews 6:1).
Repentance is not a change of life; it is a change of mind that results in a change of life (Acts 26:20). It is a surrender (1 Thess. 1:9). “Believing” without surrender is not salvation.
Repentance is an assassin laying down the knife. Evangelist James Stewart wrote: “The hand that clutches the assassin’s knife must open ‘ere it can grasp the gift its intended victim proffers; and opening that hand, though a single act, has a double aspect and purpose. Accepting the gift implies a turning from the crime the heart was bent on, and it was the gift itself that worked the change. Faith is the open hand, relatively to the gift; repentance is the same hand, relatively, not only to the gift but more especially to the dagger that is flung from it” (Stewart, Evangelism, pp. 48, 49).
Repentance is the thief returning the stolen property. The late Lester Roloff said:
“I believe we ought to make right what we can make right. What if I was staying with a group of preachers and one of them stole my wallet while I was sleeping? The next day he comes up to me and tells me he is terribly sorry and asks me to forgive him. I would be glad to hear that he is sorry for stealing my wallet, but I would certainly want and expect more than that from a repentant thief. I would want my wallet back! I don’t believe he has really repented unless he brings my billfold back. I DON'T BELIEVE YOU HAVE REPENTED UNTIL YOU GET RIGHT AND SAY, ‘LORD, I’M GOING TO LIVE DIFFERENT FROM NOW ON,’ AND BY THE GRACE OF GOD YOU WILL LIVE DIFFERENT” (Roloff, Repent or Perish).
The question is how do we use repentance in soul winning?
First, we must not skip over it. We should explain that the individual must be ready to surrender to God, and not give him the idea that it is possible to be saved without this (Lk. 13:3; Acts 17:30). Of course, we explain that God will do the changing, but the sinner must be ready to accept God’s working. If the individual is not ready to do this, he is not ready to be saved. I have dealt with many people who understood and believed that Christ died for their sins and that faith in Christ is the only way of salvation, but they simply were not ready to surrender to God. They refuse to repent.
This is often the case with people who grow up in Christian homes. Repentance was the thing that was missing in my life as I grew up in a Baptist church. I don’t recall a time when I did not believe in Christ. I had no doubt that He died on the cross for my sin. I made a public profession of faith at about age 10, but it was empty because I had no intention of surrendering my life to Christ. Bowing before Him as Lord was the farthest thing from my mind. The course of my life did not change one iota.
When my wife and I first began our missionary work in South Asia in 1979, our landlord began coming to our house to have Bible studies. He was a wealthy middle-aged Hindu and had a concubine with whom he spent most of his time, though he was married and had grown children. After we went through the gospel a few times, he told me he felt that he understood what I was teaching and that he was interested in receiving Christ, but he wanted to know what he would have to do about two specific things in his life--his shady business practices and his illicit relationship with the concubine. I could have said, “Don’t worry about those things. Just pray to receive Christ and those things will work themselves out later.” That’s the method I was taught in Bible School, but I don’t believe it would have been scriptural counsel. I don’t believe he could receive Christ and be saved unless he repented of his immorality and his dishonesty. Salvation requires surrendering. I explained to him that if he would turn to Christ, God would change his life and he would have different desires, but he didn’t want that. The power to change one’s life is from God, but the sinner must surrender to God’s working.
Dealing with sinners according to repentance is often neglected today. There was an Independent Baptist church campaign in Maine a few years ago in which the people were taught to go house to house and say, “If I were to tell you today that you can be saved and go to heaven and you won’t have to change anything, would you be interested?”
That is not biblical soul winning or biblical gospel preaching. That is cheap religious salesmanship.
Consider Christ’s dealings with the woman at the well in John 4. He faced her squarely with the immorality that had controlled her life. He also faced the Rich Young Ruler with his sin of self-righteousness and covetousness (Luke 18).
This is the way God always deals with people, and this is the way we must deal with them, too, if we want to follow the Bible in our gospel work. To preach repentance means to deal with glaring sins that people are holding onto and to tell them plainly that they must repent of sinning against God; they must yield their lives to Him; they must change directions; they must surrender. God will do a new work in their lives but they must be ready for that to happen. They must have a change of mind about God and sin that will result in a change of life.
It appears that many soul-winning programs try to “slip the gospel by the sinner” and get him saved before he really knows what is happening! That is not possible. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). There is no salvation without repentance, and it is a Holy Spirit-wrought change of mind that results in a change of life.
To tell sinners that God demands that they repent might cut down on the “decision” statistics, but it is the only honest and scriptural path. God has commanded that they repent and Jesus said they can’t be saved without it, so how can we fail to tell them this?
One afternoon I accompanied a pastor to knock doors in a part of a city that was populated with university students. A few times in one afternoon he shared a five-minute Romans Road plan (i.e., all have sinned against God, the wages of sin is death, and Jesus died for our sin and those who believe can be saved) and then immediately asked three questions: “Does that make sense to you?” (All of them said it made sense.) “Do you have any questions?” (None of them did, because they didn’t appear the least big interested.) And “Would you pray to receive Christ right now?” (None of them did.) Not only was the program “quick,” to say the least, the pastor didn’t even hint to the people that there would need to be a change in the direction of their life, a turning, a surrender to God.
This is not a pastor who is into the numbers racket or who is trying to impress some preacher’s fellowship or perhaps get his name in a national magazine. He is a man that I respect, a mature Christian leader who has been in the ministry for many years and who has taken a scriptural stand on some unpopular issues. I believe the problem is that he is simply following a program of soul-winning that he has been taught and that is standard fare for a large percentage of fundamental Baptists. The program simply isn’t questioned.
Second, it is not necessarily the word “repentance” that always has to be used; it is the concept and meaning that the soul winner must get across. We must make the individual understand that God requires surrender.
Third, we need to deal with each case individually. Paul preached repentance directly and forcefully to the Athenians because they needed to be confronted with God’s requirement (Acts 17:30). On the other hand, he didn’t have to preach repentance to the Philippian jailer, because the Spirit of God had already done a great work in his heart and he was ready to do whatever is necessary for salvation (Acts 16:30-31).
2. THE TYPICAL SOUL-WINNING PROGRAM EMPHASIZES HEAVEN TOO MUCH.
It is very common for soul-winning programs to emphasize “going to Heaven when you die.” The course entitled In the Highways and Hedges, published by First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, takes this approach.
This soul-winning plan instructs the evangelist to begin by asking the individual, “If you were to die today, are you 100 percent sure you would go to Heaven?”
When the individual replies, “No,” the soul-winner is instructed to give a simple little Romans Road presentation (you can know that you have eternal life, you are a sinner and under God’s condemnation, Jesus died for your sin, salvation is a gift that you can receive today).
After the very brief presentation using a few isolated verses, the soul-winner is instructed to say the following:
“Now, John, if you will trust Jesus to take you to Heaven when you die, just bow your head and close your eyes with me right now. If you mean this with all your heart, pray this prayer after me: ‘Dear Jesus, forgive me of my sins. I trust You today. Jesus, and only You, to take me to Heaven when I die. Thank You for saving me. Amen.’”
It’s all about “going to Heaven when you die.”
There is absolutely nothing like this in Scripture. Never did Jesus or the apostles and preachers in the early churches approach someone and ask if they wanted to go to Heaven when they died. Who doesn’t! But salvation is not a mere ticket to Heaven. It is a saving, life-changing relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ in the here and now.
The “do you want to go to Heaven when you die” approach was used by Jack Hyles on May 3, 1998, when he claimed that more people were saved then than on the day of Pentecost. Hyles preached a message titled “A Place Called Heaven.” His text was John 14:1-6, which, of course, is addressed to believers, not unbelievers. After preaching on Heaven, he told the crowd, “If you have the least desire to go to Heaven, if there’s just a little bit of a desire to go to Heaven, then this morning, you trust Jesus as your Saviour.”
Heaven is a wonderful subject, but the gospel is not about Heaven. The gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sin.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
Heaven is definitely a product of salvation, but why is it that none of the apostles preached on Heaven when they were presenting the gospel? Why are the sermons recorded in the book of Acts so different from the one Hyles preached?
Consider the sermon Paul preached on Mars Hills to the idolatrous pagans in Acts 17. Paul did not preach on Heaven; he preached on God and His righteous judgment so that the idolaters would understand their sin and turn to Christ for redemption. The average person in North America today is very similar to those idolatrous pagans, and North Americans need the same type of preaching. An idolatrous and apostate people need sermons on Hell more than sermons on Heaven. They need sermons on the law more than sermons on grace, because biblical grace is only understood in the context of the law. No one can understand and appreciate God’s grace unless they first understand His holiness and justice. This is how Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. He didn’t ask the Jews if they wanted to go to Heaven.
We need to follow the Bible rather than some man today or a modern soul-winning program. The emphasis of the Bible is on telling people that God is holy and just and a judge of sin, that they are lost and undone, and that God demands that they surrender to His authority (repent) and receive Christ AND BECOME DISCIPLES OF CHRIST IN THIS PRESENT WORLD rather than think they can get some sort of cheap ticket to Heaven through a religious ritual (e.g., saying a prayer). Not one person in the book of Acts received the gospel as a mere ticket to Heaven and when his way unchanged. Each one of the conversions recorded in Acts was of a dramatic, life-changing sort in which the individual not only trusted Christ but also surrendered to Christ.
One of the clearest examples of biblical salvation is the church at Thessalonica. They didn’t pray a little prayer so they could go to Heaven one day. They “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
3. THE TYPICAL SOUL WINNING PROGRAM DOESN’T PLOW THE GROUND PROPERLY.
No individual will cast himself upon Christ in a saving way unless he first is convinced that he is a lost sinner with no hope apart from Christ. Most soul-winning programs pass over this fact far too lightly. They teach you to quote a verse or two about sin and then ask the individual, “Do you believe you are a sinner?” Many people will answer this in the affirmative but that does not mean they understand and believe what the Bible says.
Most people will admit that they aren’t perfect, but they also think of themselves as good. They think that their good outweighs the bad they do. They know they have done wrong, but they don’t think of themselves as truly deserving of hell. In their minds, they typically redefine “sin” to be a lack of perfection or a lack self-esteem or (if Catholics) they divide sin into “categories” of big and small or some such thing. They do not believe that were sinners from conception and that even their very righteousness is as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6).
To be saved I have to acknowledge that I am the sinner that the Bible says I am, that I am such a sinner before God that I deserve Hell, that I have wickedly broken God’s holy laws. To confess that I am sinner in a biblical, saving fashion means that I stop making excuses for my sin and blaming others.
For this to happen, the ground of the soul has to be properly plowed and the divinely-ordained plow is the Law (Gal. 3:24). It is God’s Law that exposes man’s sinful condition by showing what God requires and how far man has fallen. It is the Law which takes away man’s excuses and stops him from judging himself by human standards and comparing himself to other men and makes him stand guilty before God (Romans 3:19).
This is why the Bible is two-thirds law before we come to the New Testament with its gospel of grace. The Old Testament is the preparation for the New.
Consider Romans 1-3. This is the true Romans Road. Paul spent the better part of three chapters establishing the fact of God’s holiness and His righteous judgment upon sinful mankind (Romans 1:18 - 3:23) before he preached salvation through the grace of Christ (Romans 3:24 - 4:25). The love of God isn’t mentioned until chapter 5. This is the true Romans Road. This is how Peter preached to the Jews on the day of Pentecost and how Paul preached to the pagans on Mars Hill.
The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 can be used effectively toward this end, beginning with the first commandment. Ask the individual if he has always put God absolutely first in his life. The sincere answer, obviously, will be no. Ask if he has always honored and obeyed his father and mother, whether he has ever stolen, ever lied, ever coveted that which belonged to someone else.
Go further and show that God requires that we keep His laws from the heart. External obedience is not enough. Thus, lusting after a woman is likened to adultery (Mat. 5:28) and hating someone is likened to murder (Mat. 7:21-22).
Show that “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
This establishes the fact that all men are sinners who constantly break God’s laws and deserve God’s punishment. It means that all men are under God’s judgment and will be punished with eternal punishment, because we can never pay the full amount that God’s law demands. Thus the wages of sin is not only physical death but also eternal torment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).
This type of plowing of the ground of the soul is what the Spirit of God uses to bring proper conviction to the heart and to remove the sinner’s false sense of hope and compels him to fervently want to know what he can do to be saved.
4. THE TYPICAL SOUL-WINNING PROGRAM DOESN’T EMPHASIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF PATIENCE AND THOROUGHNESS.
The typical soul-winning plan is far too hasty and shallow. We need to deal with people more carefully, more thoroughly, and more patiently so that they understand the gospel and are able to make a proper Spirit-led decision.
Consider the previous example of giving a quick Romans Road presentation to a stranger at the door and then actually expecting him to be ready to be saved and encouraging him to pray a sinner’s prayer.
On one visitation outing in Oklahoma City, my soul-winning partner knocked on a door and it was answered by a woman from South America who could only speak a few words of English. She invited us into the house (her teenage children were there) and told us that she was Roman Catholic. Though it was obvious that she couldn’t understand English sufficiently, my partner went quickly through the Roman’s Road and then asked her if she wanted to pray. At that point I intervened and suggested that we find someone from the church who spoke her language and send them by to visit with her and also that we try to get her a Bible in her own language. How could an individual possibly understand the gospel and be saved when they are being dealt with in a language they don’t understand? Further, as a Roman Catholic, it appeared to me that what little she did understand she was re-interpreting in light of her false religion.
This is an example of failing to deal with an individual properly.
My partner that day was a humble, sincere man of God. He was not trying to make a name for himself; he simply wanted to win people to Christ, but he had been influenced by the standard soul-winning program and had not thought beyond it.
Many people in America today are as Bible ignorant as the Hindus in South Asia. Many are steeped in humanism and believe in evolution, and evolution is as far-fetched as any Hindu myth. If we tried to use the aforementioned soul-winning technique in South Asia, we could get half the people to pray a sinner’s prayer “so they could go to Heaven one day.” But in the vast majority of cases, what they would be doing would be adding Jesus to their other gods, which, typically, is the first thing a Hindu tries to do. It is quite another thing for the Hindu to turn to Jesus Christ ALONE as Lord and Savior and to turn FROM all of his other gods, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 1:9: “For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” But this, and this alone, is biblical salvation.
I have never met a Hindu who understood the gospel the first time he heard it. There probably has been some, but in the 20 years I have been a missionary among them I have not experienced it or even heard of it.
We have found that in the vast majority of cases, the Hindu has to hear the gospel over a period of time. He must be dealt with very carefully and very patiently.
Someone might argue that people in the Bible got saved the first time they heard. Yes, some did. The Philippian jailer is an example, but he had also been listening to Paul and Barnabas’ preaching and we don’t know what other preparation he had received before that night.
Some Important Scriptures about Being Careful in Gospel Presentation
In the matter of dealing with sinners in a patient and thorough manner, consider the following Scriptures:
“And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40).
Though we know that 3,000 were saved on the day of Pentecost, it is also important to observe that they weren’t saved on the basis of a five-minute gospel presentation. Further, these were Jews that were already steeped in Scripture and had a foundation of spiritual and religious knowledge that most people don’t have today. They knew about the true God. They understood the concept of the fall of man and sin. They had the testimony of the sacrificial system. They had the Messianic prophecies. And many of them had heard the preaching of Christ Himself.
Consider another passage:
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” (Acts 17:11-12).
The conversion of the Bereans did not involve a five-minute Romans Road presentation. It occurred over a period of time during which they heard Paul’s teaching and searched the Scriptures.
Consider two more Scriptures:
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Romans 6:17).
In these passages Paul describes salvation as coming to the knowledge of the truth and as believing a form of doctrine. Salvation requires knowledge. This does not mean that the sinner must learn systematic theology. It means that he must know and understand the content of the gospel. He must know what it means when the Bible says that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scripture, that he died, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scripture (1 Cor. 15:1-4). He must know what sin is and recognize himself as the type of sinner that the Bible says he is. He must understand who Jesus is and the significance of His death. He must understand what saving faith is.
In light of this, it is obvious that the soul winner must patiently teach sinners these things and try to make sure that they understand.
Don’t Forget the Law of Sowing and Reaping
Consider the fact that soul-winning is likened to sowing and reaping. Typically, these two aspects of farming don’t happen at the same time. There is sowing, following by watering, fertilizing, weeding, etc., then there is reaping.
Soul-winning programs too often create the expectation that the sowing and reaping will occur at the same time. But when this does seem to happen, it is usually because the sowing had already been done, perhaps by godly parents, perhaps by a co-worker or friend, perhaps by personal Bible reading.
The Preparatory Work of the Law
In light of dealing with sinners properly, consider the make-up of the Bible. The reason why such a large percentage of Scripture is devoted to presenting the law is to prepare the way for the gospel. The law is the schoolmaster that leads sinners to Christ (Gal. 3:24). The law shows man how holy God is and how sinful man is. Until a person understands his great guilt before God, he will not flee to Christ in a scriptural sense (Heb. 6:18).
Preachers used to understand that the ground of the human heart must be plowed up with the law before it can bear the sweet fruit of the gospel. Some of the old evangelists would hold meetings and not even preach the gospel for the first few days, preparing the way by preaching hard on sin and judgment.
J. Frank Norris once preached an entire week on the subject of hell without giving an invitation. Only after a full week of such preaching did he give an invitation, and more than a hundred and fifty were saved.
In the 1960s Oliver B. Greene preached 25 radio messages in a row on the wrath of God. I doubt he could even get away with that on any of the national Christian radio stations today.
Everything is quick and shallow today, and we have all been affected by the spirit of the times.
The Sinner Typically Reinterprets the Gospel according to His Religious Background
Furthermore, it is important to be careful and thorough in presenting the gospel because people tend to interpret it in light of their religious background. When a Roman Catholic first hears about being born again, for example, he naturally thinks about baptism. When he hears about “receiving Christ,” he thinks that it is something that is done repeatedly through the sacraments. When he hears about sin, he thinks that there are different categories of sin and that only certain types of sin have eternal consequences. He might tell the soul winner that he understands these things and he might say that he has no questions about what has been presented, but in reality he doesn’t understand at all because of his previous false training.
This is why ecumenical evangelistic crusades are so insufficient. When Billy Graham or Luis Palau preach to Roman Catholics, they might preach a sound gospel message, but that message is interpreted wrongly by their Catholic hearers, and the ecumenical evangelists refuse to make things plain by preaching AGAINST false doctrine. To be understood, the truth must often be contrasted plainly with error.
A course that carefully presents the gospel is called SALVATION BIBLE BASICS by Doug Hammett, Lehigh Valley Baptist Church, Emmaus, Pennsylvania. It consists of four lessons on salvation. A strong foundation is laid by defining sin from God’s perspective and helping the sinner to see his lost condition before God. In Lesson Four, Repentance and Faith are carefully explained. It is very unusual for an evangelistic Bible study course to go into repentance as thoroughly as this one does. A simple chart helps to illustrate the Bible truths.
In no wise am I saying that confrontational evangelism is wrong or that we should not seek to win people to Christ right where we find them, if possible. If God is convicting the individual and if he understands the gospel and is ready to repent and believe, then nothing else is necessary.
I am simply saying that one of the best ways to avoid false professions is to avoid shallow, insufficient presentations of the gospel. Even the most careful presentation of the gospel will not avoid all false professions, but it will greatly cut down on them in contrast to a shallow presentation.
Someone might protest, “But time is short and you never know if you will see that person again.” That is so very true, and oftentimes we only have one opportunity to give the gospel to any certain individual. In such a case we must do the best we can and leave them a gospel tract. But it is one thing to give a quick word of testimony or even a quick Romans Road plan of salvation, while it is quite another thing to use that hasty presentation as the basis for manipulating someone into praying a sinner’s prayer.
Someone might protest that it is not possible to be thorough when people won’t even open the door and let the soul winner in the house. That is true, but if a person is not willing to listen to what God has to say, there is no hope for him beyond praying that God will give him an interest. The gospel cannot be forced upon the heart and it cannot be snuck in some side door.
We must ask God to lead us to people who will listen, who will let us into their homes to have a series of gospel Bible studies, who will attend classes at church, etc.
Whatever the problem might be and whatever protests might be offered, being too hurried and plucking the fruit before it is ripe is not the solution!
5. THE TYPICAL SOUL-WINNING PROGRAM DOESN’T EMPHASIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF ANSWERING SINCERE QUESTIONS.
This could go under the previous point of taking the time to be thorough and to deal with the sinner carefully, but I want to cover it under a separate point because of its importance.
At Bible College I was taught NOT to answer most questions during soul-winning situations. I was taught to stay with the verses of the “Romans Road” plan and to say, “That is a good question and we will get back to it later, but right now I would like to show you…”
There is a time for that approach, if the question would truly sidetrack the issue and if it is not necessary to answer it, but there are many questions that need to be answered before the person can properly understand the gospel and before he is ready to be saved.
The man that led me to Jesus Christ spent three or four entire days with me, patiently teaching me the Scriptures and answering the myriad of questions and arguments that I had, such as whether reincarnation is true or why a man can’t simply follow his heart or why God would send people to Hell who have never heard the gospel or how Hinduism is different than the Bible way. If he had put off my questions in the manner in which I was taught at Bible College, he would not have gotten very far with me. My questions reflected what I believed at the time, and they needed to be answered. The fact that he could give me Bible answers for questions I considered unanswerable impressed me greatly. And the fact that he could turn right to the relevant Bible passages was doubly impressive. I realized that this was a man who took his religious faith seriously and had made the effort to educate himself in it, and it was one of the main reasons why I was willing to listen to him.
It is important to understand the difference between a question that should be answered and a “foolish question” (2 Tim. 2:23; Titus 3:9-10). A foolish question is one that is asked insincerely with the objective of confusing the truth rather than finding it. It is something that is practiced by hardened rebels and heretics. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are often trained to ask foolish questions about such things as the Deity of Christ, death, heaven, and the bodily resurrection. They aren’t interested in your answer; they only want to push their own heresies, which are based on Scriptures that are twisted out of context.
6. THE TYPICAL SOUL-WINNING PROGRAM IS TOO FORMULAIC.
From my experience with soul-winning courses, they are typically too formulaic. The soul winner is taught a simple, pat plan that he uses in every case.
While it is good to have a plan and to know how to present the gospel, there is no one soul-winning formula taught in Scripture.
Christ is the pre-eminent Soul Winner and His dealings with people followed no set pattern. His dealing with the Woman at the Well (John 2) was dramatically different from His dealings with Nicodemus (John 3) or the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 19) or Zacchaeus (Luke 19) or the Pharisees (Matthew 23).
The same thing can be seen in Paul’s ministry. Consider his dealings with Lydia (Acts 16:14), the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:25-32), and the philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17).
The soul winner must be in fellowship with the Lord so that he has God’s wisdom to discern people’s spiritual conditions and needs. Some questions should be answered and some ignored. Sometimes we must deal tenderly and sometimes sharply. Sometimes we must hammer the need to repent and sometimes this is unnecessary, as in the case of the Philippian Jailer. Sometimes we must spend a lot of time showing the person that he is a sinner and making him understand what sin is and removing his self-righteousness, while sometimes God has already shown him this.
7. THE TYPICAL SOUL-WINNING PROGRAM USES HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY AND SALESMANSHIP.
The late evangelist Carl Hatch was probably the epitome of this. He was called the world’s greatest soul winner” by Curtis Hutson and Jack Hyles. In a soul-winning seminar at Bob Gray’s Texas Baptist University, which I have on DVD, he taught the following technique:
Carl Hatch says:
I don’t ask anybody if they want to be saved. If you want a positive answer you must ask a positive question. If you want a no answer ask a no question. If you want a yes answer ask a yes question. Soul winning is positive. And in soul winning you use a lot of reverse psychology and psychology.
For instance, if you are lost and I say, “Mr. Smith, let me ask you a question. You don’t want to go to hell, do you?”
He will answer, No.
I say, “Wonderful, you want to go to heaven, don’t you?” He will say yes. I will reply, “Sure you do. Sure you do. Sure you do. Sure you do. I thank God for a man that doesn’t want to go to hell.”
Did you get that? I am reinforcing the fact that he wants to go to heaven. I’m keep everything positive.
I don’t say, “Can I show this to you?” or “Do you mind if I read the Bible to you?” That’s negative and you will probably get a negative answer. I don’t ask people; I just say, “I’m so glad you don’t want to go to hell and I will just take a minute here to show you some verses. I don’t have long and I know you don’t, either. There’s three things that you need to know. First, Jesus died for you. Isn’t that wonderful? Two, Jesus loves you. Isn’t that wonderful? Three, Jesus wants you to go to heaven. Isn’t that wonderful? And I’m so glad that you want to.”
See, I am being positive.
He may say he has a lot of questions, but unsaved people don’t have questions. Don’t get on unsaved people’s questions. Tell them that you will answer their questions later, but first you want to read a few verses of Scripture. Unsaved people don’t have questions. If you get them saved, that answers all of them.
Let me tell you how to deal with someone who has a dumb spirit who bucks getting saved. You share the gospel and get them to the point of praying the sinner’s prayer, but they stop. How do you get that type of person saved? Now, this will work in most cases. If he is a man, put your hand on his shoulder and say, “Mr. Jones, I want to have prayer for you. I’m thrilled you want to go to heaven. God has been good to you. Bow your head with me. Then I pray, “Lord, I’m so thankful for this man that doesn’t want to burn in hell. I’m so thrilled he wants to go to heaven and not take his kids to hell. I thank you for this man. And I pray you will help him to see that need.” While our heads are still bowed, I say, “Mr. Jones, if you want heaven as your home and Christ as your Saviour, pray this prayer. Lord Jesus.” And if he doesn’t repeat that and tries not to pray, I squeeze his shoulder. I use this technique. If I am dealing with the president of the bank, I take his hand and when it comes time for him to pray, I squeeze his hand. We’ve titled that the Carl Hatch squeeze. It works. If I am dealing with a woman, I ask her to put her hand on the Bible, and when it comes time to pray I just tap her hand gently. It works; it works.
The previous is from a Carl Hatch soul-winning seminar at Texas Baptist University.
This is nothing more than cheap salesmanship. It might be a good way to sell a used car but it is a bad way to win souls to Christ. There is not a hint of such a thing in Scripture. We can’t imagine the Lord Jesus or the apostles doing such a thing. When Jesus dealt with the woman at the well, He didn’t ask a bunch of leading questions to keep the subject positive. He is the one who brought up the woman’s immoral lifestyle. When He dealt with Nicodemus, He confronted the man with his need of the new birth, which Nicodemus didn’t find positive at all. Christ told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and follow Him. He told people if they didn’t repent they would perish, which is a very negative approach (Luke 13:1-5). He told the people that only those who continue in His Word are His true disciples (John 8:30-31). Jesus and the evangelists in the early churches knew absolutely nothing of the Carl Hatch squeeze.
8. THE TYPICAL SOUL-WINNING PROGRAM DOESN’T DEPEND ON GOD ENOUGH AND ISN’T GEARED TO LOOK FOR GOD’S WORKING.
Our part in evangelism is to proclaim the gospel properly, to warn people of the judgment of God and to urge them to be saved and to pray for them. That is all that we can do. We cannot save anyone. We cannot manipulate them into being saved. We cannot sneak the gospel to them in such a way that they get saved without hardly knowing it.
Salvation is a divine miracle from beginning to end. We don’t believe that God “sovereignly chooses” who will be saved or that He has elected only some to be saved, but we do believe that salvation is 100% the work of God. It is God who must convict (John 16:8-11), enlighten (John 1:9), draw (John 12:32), regenerate and impart the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:7). What we do in evangelism is to look for this miracle-working power of God in individual’s lives. If that work is not present, there will be no salvation. God does this work of regeneration in answer to repentance and faith, but the only way that we can know that the repentance is real and the faith is true saving faith is by the miracle-working power of God in the individual’s life.
Quick Prayerism typically focuses on the technique and program of getting people to pray a prayer and ignores what is happening in the person’s life. This is why it is not unusual for Quick Prayerists to get people to pray a sinner’s prayer when they aren’t interested enough even to invite the soul winner into the home. A Bible College teacher told me recently about a student of his who continues to put pressure on people while door knocking even when they have indicated that they aren’t interested in getting saved. You don’t see that in the Bible. When I was in Bible College I was often amazed when I was with “successful” soul winners and they would lead people in a prayer when in my mind the individuals were disinterested, perhaps just willing to say the prayer to get rid of us or to say the prayer as life insurance and a ticket into Heaven but with no real conviction and no intent to change directions.
The objective of biblical evangelism is not to get people to pray a sinner’s prayer. The objective is to see the miracle-working power of regeneration in people’s lives.
Repentance is both something that God has commanded man to do (Acts 17:30) and it is a miracle-work of God in the heart (2 Timothy 2:25). I believe both of these things come together for salvation. God seeks to give repentance but man must respond. Salvation is man agreeing with and responding to the work of God in his heart, the work of spiritual enlightenment, conviction, drawing, and repentance.
9. THE TYPICAL SOUL-WINNING PROGRAM PROMOTES THE ERROR OF IMMEDIATELY GIVING ASSURANCE.
I have often cringed as I have observed a soul winner giving assurance to someone who has just prayed a sinner’s prayer, even when there was no evidence that the person was truly saved or that he was more than vaguely interested in what the soul winner was talking about.
What is wrong with assurance, you ask? Nothing is wrong with it, but it is only for those who are saved.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27, 28).
God promises eternal life to those who are born again, but He certainly does not promise eternal life to those who merely pray a sinner’s prayer. Verses 27 and 28 in John 10 are connected. Verse 28 says Christ gives eternal life to His sheep, but verse 27 says His sheep follow Him. Verse 27 is the evidence of salvation, while verse 28 is the eternal blessing of salvation. You cannot take the promise of verse 28 unless you display the evidence of verse 27.
Consider also the following passage:
“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled, In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister” (Colossians 1:21-23).
Those who are reconciled to Christ and who therefore have eternal life are those who continue in the faith and are not moved from the gospel. Those who merely pray a sinner’s prayer and do not continue in the faith demonstrate that they have never been born again.
Consider Hebrews 6:9-11:
“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end” (Hebrews 6:9-11).
Note that there are “things that accompany salvation.” An empty profession is not biblical salvation, and those who have an empty profession, who do not care about the things of God, do not have eternal life no matter how many prayers they have prayed or how many times they have been baptized and no matter who has given them assurance. True salvation is accompanied by works and labours of love, which are the products of the indwelling Spirit. Hebrews 6:11 reminds us that full assurance is only for those who give evidence that they have been born again.
Consider 1 John 3:2-3:
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2,3).
Verse 1 tells us that those who are born of God have eternal life and will be like Christ in Glory. Verse 2 goes on to warn that those who are truly born of God purify their lives. The purifying is not the means of their salvation; it is the evidence of their salvation.
All of these passages teach that we must be careful about giving assurance of salvation to those who have merely prayed a prayer.
We can tell them that IF they have repented toward God and exercised faith toward Christ they have eternal life, but if they have merely prayed a prayer, they are still lost in their sins. To tell a person dogmatically that he has been saved and now has eternal life when we do not know if he has been saved is unscriptural and harmful.
The Bible gives us many examples of those who were interested in the things of God and were even zealous for God and who appeared to be saved but were not. Judas is a prime example. Those in Matthew 7:21-23 who prayed “lord lord” and who did many wonderful works were not saved. The Jews mentioned in Romans 10 had a great zeal for God but they were not saved. The false teachers of 2 Peter chapter 2 professed Christ but were not saved. Those mentioned in Titus 1:16 professed that they knew God but they were not saved.
A sinner can have many false motives for calling upon the Lord other than for salvation from his sin. He can call upon the Lord because He wants help with some immediate problem in his life, or to get rid of the soul winner, or because he wants a ticket to Heaven when he dies (though he has no intent to know or serve God in this life), or because he thinks that the sinner’s prayer is another of the many religious things he must accomplish in order to be saved eventually, etc.
It is one thing to tell a person that he can have assurance from God and from the Scriptures if he is truly saved; it is quite another thing for the soul winner to give a stranger assurance and promise him a home in Heaven simply because he has prayed a sinner’s prayer.
Yes, Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” but that verse cannot be isolated from the rest of the passage and from the rest of the book of Romans and from the rest of the Bible. It must be a certain kind of calling upon the Lord, a calling from the heart, a calling that is based in sound repentance toward God and proper faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the final analysis, giving assurance to a sinner is not the soul winner’s job; it is the job of the Holy Spirit and He accomplishes this through God’s Word. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16).
10. THE TYPICAL SOUL-WINNING PROGRAM IS GEARED TO NOT DOUBTING THE REALITY OF EMPTY PROFESSIONS.
In the environment created by the Quick Prayerism program, it is typical not to doubt the reality of salvation no matter how empty the profession. To doubt that people are really getting saved would destroy the entire program and the enthusiasm of those who are getting the “decisions.”
I recently talked with a Bible College student who told me that he had led perhaps 100 people to the Lord, but when I asked him how many of those were serving the Lord today he could only point to two. When I questioned the reality of the salvation of the 98, he argued with me that they could be saved even though seemingly nothing happened.
I once met a missionary in England who told me that they were seeing “many” come to Christ through their tract work on the city sidewalks. When I asked him about the attendance to his church services, though, he said the number was very small. When I asked him why he thought that many people were actually getting saved when they weren’t interested enough even to attend church, he got upset and told me that “we can’t judge who is saved or not.” This man had recently attended Hyles’ Pastors School where Hyles had said that repentance is necessary for salvation and the missionary told me that he believes in repentance! Obviously this so-called “repentance” is meaningless as far as any practical effect in people’s lives.
While it is true that we cannot know for absolute sure who is saved, and while it takes time for people to grow spiritually, and while some demonstrate more enthusiasm for Christ than others, and while we can be deceived about a Judas here and there, it is not true that people can be saved without evidence. The Bible is as clear on this as it is only any doctrine. Consider the following Scriptures:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, AND THEY FOLLOW ME” (John 10:27).
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).
“They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).
“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and THINGS THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION, though we thus speak” (Hebrews 6:9).
“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
There is not one example in the New Testament of an individual who is saved and does not give clear and even dramatic evidence thereof. Consider the Woman at the Well in John 4 and the Jews who repented on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:42) and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-39) and Cornelius and his household (Acts 10) and the converts at Antioch (Acts 11:20-23) and Lydia (Acts 16:14-15) and the Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:23-34).
Quick Prayerists typically confuse backsliding and carnality with unregeneracy. There is such a thing as backsliding in the Christian life, but a backslider is one who has first experienced the reality of spiritual life. Someone who has made an empty profession and has no evidence whatsoever that he has been regenerated is not a backslider. The same is true for carnality. A truly born again believer still has the old man living within him together with the new man and it is possible to walk after the flesh to some extent and therefore to be carnal (Gal. 5:16-25), but there will still be plenty of evidence of one’s salvation. Take the members of the church at Corinth, for example. Paul said they were carnal (1 Cor. 3:1) but they showed all sorts of evidence of salvation. They had been converted from dark idolatrous paganism and loved the things of Christ; they were zealous of spiritual things, zealous in ignorance, but zealous nonetheless (1 Cor. 14:12). And the best evidence of all that they were truly saved is the fact that they responded to Paul’s reproof and repented of sins they were guilty of in the church (2 Cor. 7:9-11).
What about Demas? He forsook Paul because of his love for this present world (2 Tim. 4:10). But Demas is not an example of someone who is saved but has no evidence. Demas had shown plenty of evidence of salvation. He had even been a co-worker with Paul and had preached the gospel and helped plant churches (Col. 4:12; Philemon 24).
BUT ISN’T IT GOOD THAT PEOPLE ARE BEING SAVED EVEN IF THERE ARE LOTS OF EMPTY PROFESSIONS?
We thank the Lord for every soul that is genuinely saved, even through the means of Quick Prayerism, but we cannot ignore the destructive nature of this practice.
Those who aren’t saved have not only prayed a sinners prayer, they have been told that they are saved and have been given assurance of salvation. By this means they become almost inoculated to genuine salvation.
The churches that have adopted this unscriptural method of evangelism have produced millions of false professions. There are many churches that can show only a handful of new creatures in Christ for every hundred or even thousand converts they claim. There is something extremely wrong about that picture. It is a great confusion.
For years I have observed the sad fruit of this technique: multitudes of false professions, confusion about salvation, indifference to biblical truth, agnosticism, reprobate living, and blasphemy against God. In many communities across the land a large percentage of the population has prayed a sinner’s prayer under the ministry of churches practicing Quick Prayerism. Vast numbers of these have never been born again and they are now almost inoculated against biblical salvation. When challenged about their lifeless spiritual condition, they commonly reply, “I have done that,” meaning they have prayed a prayer and have been given assurance of eternal life. Since they were not told that God requires that they repent of their sin and idolatry and that there will be a change of life, they are comfortable and self-assured that they have a ticket to Heaven. Those who observe these things are made to think that salvation means little or nothing in relation to one’s manner of life.
We conclude with the testimony of an evangelist about the danger of multiplying false professions through faulty soul winning techniques:
“Many years ago, in order to answer the criticism of the mounting number of false professions, I heard a brother say, ‘I would rather lead 100 souls to Christ, knowing that 95 of them were false professions, and see five of them go to heaven, than to not attempt to be a soul-winner.’ The first tragedy of that statement is assuming that those are the only two options: either to rack up false professions while winning a few, or to not witness at all. How about the option of being a witness within the guidelines of scriptural teaching, which produces very few false professions! The second tragedy is the flippant attitude about the 95 people to whom you gave assurance of salvation that will one day wake up in hell! Most of them will not allow a genuine witness to approach them about their souls, because they’re banking on that false assurance that you gave them.”